No matter if you consider yourself a survivor of Catholic schools or someone who benefited from such an education, one thing is true- we all loved having holydays of obligation off from school. After trick or treating you'd fall into a sugar stupor only to be aroused by the alarm to attend the 8:30 children's Mass at St. Pat's. This was not an option. Every grade has its assigned place in church, and every nun sat there like a sentinel guarding her little troop and taking attendance. All Hallow's Eve was just the intro to All Saints' Day. Today's liturgies have cute little kids dressed as saints singing, "When the Saints Go Marching In." Not for us, the bell would ring, the organ would blare the notes of the opening hymn, "For all the Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest." We'd open up our Pius X hymnals and sing every verse. That was just the beginning. We're talking Pre-Vatican II here folks. Holydays meant they pulled out all the smells and bells the church had to offer. Being All Saints' Day the chanting of the Litany of the Saints was mandated, in Latin.
Beginning in Grade 3, I believe, Charlie McGrail (Now Father McGrail, a Benedictine monk) taught us Gregorian chant out of little hymnals. I still own one with its square notes and and various modes. To this day I can chant the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. At age 9 I knew more Latin than I do now, but also explains why I did phenomenally well in vocabulary tests throughout my school career. Truly Mr. McGrail was a gifted musician. St. Pats has one of the best organs in the city, and when he played, you felt the bass notes inside you. His music joined earth to heaven.
After the Gospel, the Litany would begin. The priest would call for the intercession of every saint recorded in the Church calendar, all 1332 of them. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but when you kneel for that long it feels like it. Honestly, there was a beauty to the chant. Sancte Jacobe, Ora pro nobis. Sancta Matthia, Ora pro nobis. Sancte Luca, Ora Pro Nobis. Sancta Anna, Ora pro nobis. I've attended a Hopi kachina dance, and I've sat in meditation with Buddhist monks. I've heard the chants from Mt. Athos in Greece and the call of the muezzin at a mosque. All of them have the same goal- to lift man from his human existence to glimpse into the Great Unknown.
The next day is yet another memorial day in the church calendar- All Souls' Day. One of the traditional hymns for that day is a beautiful poem written by an English nun and sung to the tune of an ancient Gaelic tune (Trinity Sunday). It's called Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty. Here are the lyrics: